Shamefully, my book shelves are heavy on Western authors and there are huge gaps in my reading list of authors from other parts of the World, so when a collection of short stories based on traditional Vietnamese ghost tales became available on NetGalley I jumped at the chance to broaden my horizons.
Violet Kupersmith’s debut novel The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting curate’s egg, as the nine tales she recounts go from extremely charming and heartfelt to the downright bizarre and nonsensical. Having no knowledge of her source material it can lead to confusion as to what message Kupersmith is trying to convey, but what she does get across beautifully are her settings and descriptive prose, which at times is mind-blowingly beautiful. There are times in these tales where you really can smell, taste, see or hear exactly what the character does and those shared experiences increase the empathy ten-fold. I’ve never been to Vietnam, but I can imagine that those who have would read this and know exactly where the character was or what they were eating (food plays a big part across several of the stories).
Unfortunately, it’s a shame that the author’s ability with speech isn’t as natural: there’s only one or two of the nine tales where the conversations feel realistic, the rest of the time it comes across as stilted and forced. Because of this, it also weakens the underlying message of young vs old that runs through the stories-is it antipathy towards the elders or the youth we are supposed to feel or sympathy as both come out badly throughout the novel?
Of the nine stories, my personal favourites were Little Brother : a tale thick with atmosphere and genuine terror with a satisfying conclusion and Turning Back a funny, modern take on the transmogrification myth.
Overall, The Frangipani Hotel is an interesting collection and Kupersmith certainly has her strengths. I would be interested in seeing how she develops those into a full length novel.
This book was supplied as an advance review copy ebook via NetGalley in return for an honest review and is in no way indicative of the final print copy.